A Review Asks Only Whether One Can Live With It Or Die Of It

I've been reviewing small press publications on www.bugpowder.com for a few years now. Totemic small presser Andy Luke recruited me; he'd been impressed with my essay, Closing Shots From A Grassy Knoll, and was convinced that I could restore some cheer to the reviews section.

Ostensibly a scoff-mixture, Closing Shots From A Grassy Knoll discusses the pathogenic presence in UK small press of comics creators eager to produce work sterilized by an ambition to be adaptable to the strictures of an intrusive company bent on 'product development', and who derive a vanity-buzz of satisfaction from tucking themselves into deadlines and knocked-off scripts. "This budding hack is fuelled by little more than the desperation for a sense of celebrity," I wrote, "and must be destroyed."

My muscular reviewing-style grated with small press enthusiasts' indulgence in self-satisfied congeniality and writer/artist shape-throwing, but I refused to conveniently dismiss creators with throwaway compliments, employing instead a reviewing discipline based on four simple tenets: 1, perspective is to be achieved; 2, the standards by which one is judging the work are to be made clear; 3, credit is to be given where it is due; and 4, one should not be such a fucking misanthrope, you above-being-human narcissist.

Regularly achieving three of the four principles with my aesthetic evaluations, and quickly developing an obsessive-compulsive urgency for production of symmetrically paragraphed reviews, the meaningless absurdity of opinionative writing soon revealed itself to me. I was not deterred.

John Robbins

All Fall Down #1

Posted on October 14, 2003

Bit of an engaging shambles, this, a collection of strips from siblings Louise and Trevor Smith, which might more appropriately have been titled 'All Fall Apart'.

'Suburban Tales Of Horror' and 'A Teddy Bear's Revenge', both courtesy of Louise, seem plagued by an insecurity-fuelled panic, which cripples these potentially rewarding stories with a deus ex machina disguised as off-the-wall craziness. The former displays some lovely detailed cartooning that is modestly ambitious; the latter, some sound writing ('til loss of composure) that succeeds in involving the reader. Trevor's series of 'Mix Tape' one-pagers prove the more satisfying read, being of a taming brevity. In essence the observations of a fledgling cynic not yet resigned to his lot, they're nicely understated and adequately illustrated. Of equal appeal is Trevor's short text piece 'Crowd'; a clever, lyrical contemplation on interrupted gatherings. Joint and further solo efforts account for the remainder of the issue, but only worthy of note is the sloppily realised parable of 'Jethro Meed', a boy who harnesses, then misuses the power provided by a build-up of sulphur in his fingertips.

Mostly under-developed and with impatient scripts that often drift into an irritating 'zany' or an irritating 'meaningful', All Fall Down #1 offers some polished if unremarkable cartooning, and afflicted flashes of potential.

36 A4 pages, £2.10 - available from www.smallzone.co.uk